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Portrait - Crossroads Review

by Matt Hensch

The Swedes know how to do heavy metal-no big secret there. Portrait did some nice things before "Crossroads," making themselves a rising force in the Swedish insurrection of heavy metal like a nuclear powerhouse during the Cold War. For Portrait, there are the albums before "Crossroads," and then there's "Crossroads" itself. Portrait's efforts before "Crossroads" were excellent Mercyful Fate-based pieces of passionate, burning heavy metal, which showcased complex compositional themes and admirable musicianship. "Crossroads," however, completely changes the game for Portrait; it is far beyond and above the group's early works. From a cult whose leitmotifs not only know the Devil's harmonies but naturally integrate them into the pitch black and the splendidly wicked, "Crossroads" is heavy metal at its absolute best and a superb moment in the evolution of this wonderful band. A masterpiece? You better believe it.

Portrait's take on heavy metal never needed a makeover; while they were never reinventing the wheel to begin with they proved that they could decorate it to fit their identity throughout their debut and "Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae." Those records felt like the group was still experimenting conceptually with certain song structures and themes, which ended up making very fine releases, but not of the sought-after element of perfection. "Crossroads" works out the kinks of Portrait's former works and offers eight remarkable anthems that are simply astounding. These tracks are multilayered and intricate, each exhibiting marvelous riffs and progressions that once again closely mirror the guitar work and structuring of Michael Denner and Hank Shermann of Mercyful Fate fame. However, their interpretation of Mercyful Fate's style is updated and individualistic, not some half-assed tribute.

"Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae" sealed its fate as a winner due to its passion and its intensity, which were thankfully carried over on "Crossroads." Stylistically Portrait is the same, but their songwriting abilities have multiplied significantly. They soar through perplexing, prog-ish riffs on "Beyond the Ghost Gate" with ease and transition effortlessly to rip-riding, Mercyful Fate/King Diamond-esque metal onslaughts like "We Were Not Alone" (superb chorus!) and "In Time." Per Lengstedt has also morphed into a dominating vocalist; his falsettos and low-register vocals grab the desired vitality of a highflying, meaningful singer, putting his performance here among the elites. The lead melodies and solos are similarly plentiful in number and enrich the package considerably. Every piece of every track is animated; the amount of care put into these songs is just unbelievable.

"Crossroads" appears as if Portrait challenged itself not on a technical level but a creative one-this is verification of their victory. The selection of prime leads, Maiden-esque gallops, bass-heavy sound quality, and tremendous songwriting all merge together perfectly under the band's blazing passion; from the acoustic licks of the introduction to the nine minutes of the monstrous "Lily," "Crossroads" burns like a torch in the night. They have captured perfectly the haunting, ghostly atmosphere of their main influences while presenting meaningful slabs of celebrated heavy metal, stuffed from end to end with vibrant compositional patterns and some of the finest instrumental chemistry I have ever heard. And as Lengstedt bellows, "Our roads must never cross!" on the record's seventh anthem, one thing is clear: from "Crossroads," we will never turn back.

Portrait - Crossroads


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